Microsoft, the former monopolist, must have a hard time playing the underdog role. But that’s exactly where the company finds itself today when it comes to the highly uncompetitive search market, where Google continues to dominate and Microsoft is an extremely distant number two.
Google’s dominance also extends to the browser category, where Microsoft Edge lags far behind Chrome. It’s still too early to tell whether Microsoft’s all-new Edge browser, based on Google’s open-source Chromium codebase, can make a dent in Google’s overwhelming lead in desktop PCs.
Ironically, Microsoft’s latest strategy to lure people to Bing and Edge involves the same kind of tactic that got them into trouble in the 1990s: tightly tying its search engine and browser to Windows. The difference in 2020 is that Windows no longer has monopoly power in a world dominated by mobile devices.
This context helps to put today Microsoft Edge Ads in a better context. As Google faces pressure from European antitrust authorities for anti-competitive behavior in online shopping, Microsoft is integrating Bing-powered online shopping tools into Edge.
The first new feature adds price comparison tools to Edge Collections. (For more on how Edge Collections work, see “Bye-bye, Chrome: 10 steps to help you switch to Microsoft’s new Edge browser.”) When you add a product to a Collection, Edge adds a “price compare with other retailers” link that displays a price list for this item from other retailers, as well as direct links to those pages.
A second new feature extends the Bing Rebates program, which offers cash back to shoppers who sign in using a Microsoft account and then click a product link from a Bing search page. Discounts are available across a wide range of categories, including fashion, electronics, groceries, travel, games, entertainment, and books.
A separate new feature extends the “Give with Bing” functionality to seven new markets: the UK, Canada, Australia, France, Italy, Germany and Spain. Searches through Bing earn points for anyone signed into a Microsoft account; these points can be redeemed for contributions to more than 1.4 million charities worldwide, with Microsoft matching these contributions through the end of the year.
The goal, of course, is to win Google fans over to Edge and Bing. Today’s announcements are part of a series of moves that attempt to put Bing in front of users who otherwise wouldn’t have visited by making Bing the default search engine for the new Edge. Microsoft is also supporting this campaign by including Bing results when users type terms into the Windows 10 search box, and organizations using Microsoft 365 accounts can embed work-related results from online assets, including including SharePoint and OneDrive for Business libraries.
But the challenge might be too overwhelming. Today’s announcements come just days after the release of a lengthy, detailed report by a congressional antitrust subcommittee that documents Google’s overwhelming structural dominance in search.
“The most dominant provider of general online search is Google,” according to the report. Google “captures about 81% of all general US search queries on desktop and 94% on mobile,” they noted, compared to Bing, which captures just 6% of the market.
This dominance comes even as Microsoft spends billions of dollars a year to maintain its search index, a job no one else in the western world can do. The House subcommittee report notes that “today the only English-language search engines that maintain their own comprehensive index of web pages are Google and Bing. Agreements.”
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And despite this massive investment over more than a decade, Bing continues to fall behind Google.
Congressional antitrust investigators cited a 2016 Google document that calculated that Bing suffered a significant drop in query volume revenue. They concluded that “Google’s monopoly power is enduring and its lead insurmountable”.
As anyone who studied Microsoft’s antitrust lawsuit in the 1990s can tell you, no lead lasts forever, and a determined competitor can turn the tide with luck and persistence. Just ask Apple, who was far behind Microsoft in the personal computing market at the start of the 21st century. An investment from Microsoft kept Apple alive, and it is now the largest publicly traded company in the world.